Many people worry about giving feedback because they fear they don’t have the ‘right’ words. They’re concerned they’ll say ‘it’ wrong and damage their relationships.
Feedback is hard enough to give without worrying about saying everything perfectly. Worry less about having all the right words and more about whether or not people trust your motives.
When people trust your motives – why you’re giving feedback – you can say almost anything. When they don’t trust your motives you can say almost nothing.
Getting negative feedback is hard. It’s easier to listen to feedback when we trust the person who’s giving us the feedback – we know their intentions are to help versus to judge or hurt us.
Speak from the heart, be authentic, and worry less. Be yourself. If you’re nervous to say what you want to say, tell the other person you’re nervous. If you’re struggling to find the right words, say so. If you’re worried you’ll damage the relationship or that it isn’t your role to give the feedback, say that. Authenticity goes a long way.
How’s how to give feedback you’re apprehensive about:
How to give feedback phrase one: Consider saying, “There’s something I need to talk with you about but I’m concerned that I won’t use the right words and will damage our relationship.”
How to give feedback phrase two: “There’s something I want to talk with you about, but I’m concerned how it will come across. Is it ok if I say what I need to say?”
How to give feedback phrase three: “I want to give you my thoughts on something but I’m concerned that it’s not my place to do so. Is it ok if I share my ideas about _________?”
Other people aren’t expecting you to be perfect. But they do want to know they’re working with a human being. And human beings are fallible. We have fears. We make mistakes. And sometimes we don’t say things perfectly.
You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be real.
As crazy as it sounds, your manager is afraid of you – afraid of your defensive reaction to feedback.
The normal reaction to feedback is to get upset. The problem is, no one wants to deal with our upset. It makes them uncomfortable. So managers and peers alike start to pick and choose what to tell us. Not wanting to deal with our reaction, they start to pick their battles. The more defensive we are, the less feedback we get. The less feedback we get, the less information about our performance we have. The less information we have about our performance, the less control we have over our career
All of us have been passed over for an opportunity at work – a promotion, raise, project, etc. – and for the most part, we have no idea why, because no one wants to risk our defensive response to tell us. This lack of knowledge makes it hard to manage your career. And to be frank, defensive people are extraordinarily difficult to work with. Having to watch every word, walk on egg shells, and be choosy about what to address and what to avoid is exhausting. Be receptive and thus easier to work with.
I teach managers to screen out candidates who aren’t coachable and receptive to feedback. Work is hard enough without hiring people who aren’t coachable. Being open to feedback makes you easier to work with.
Here are three ways to be open to feedback and increase receptiveness:
Tip one to be open to feedback and increase receptiveness: Don’t underestimate the power of your emotions and the intrinsic drive to defend yourself when receiving feedback. Not defending oneself is extremely challenging. And even the most minor reaction sounds defensive. I.e., “Thank you for the feedback. Here’s why we did it that way…”
Tip two to be open to feedback and increase receptiveness: Wait a few minutes, hours or days, and respond to feedback when you’re calm. That could sound like, “Thanks for telling me. I’m sorry that happened. I’m going to think about what you said and get back to you by the end of the day.”
Tip three to be open to feedback and increase receptiveness: Come from a place of curiosity when seeking feedback versus thinking “there’s something wrong here” and “I’m bad.” Be curious about how you impact others and the impression you make. Seek feedback to understand both.
When I landed my first ‘real’ job after graduating from college I was so scared, I almost turned the job down. It took me five years to finish my first book, How to Say Anything to Anyone, in part because I was afraid no one would like it.
It seems anything worth doing is worth fearing.
I’m not talking about taking risks for the sake of risk – driving as fast as your car can take you, not paying your bills to see what will happen, or offering a counter point of view at work for the sake of doing so. I’m talking about pursuing the things you really want, that speak to your true purpose.
Being afraid doesn’t mean you can’t do something, nor does it mean that you shouldn’t. Feeling some fear just means what you want is outside of what you know you can do. But it’s the edge and the unknown that is juicy and rich.
During the past few years I’ve pursued things I’m terrified of, that I don’t know I can do. Yet I want these things, so I pursue them in the face of fear. And I have to admit, that as I get closer to getting what I want, the fear doesn’t dissipate, it actually gets worse. As I can almost taste having what I want, I get more scared. And sometimes I pull back, thinking, maybe I don’t really won’t those things. Maybe I was wrong. Then I remember why I want what I want and step back into the pursuit, despite the fear.
Don’t misinterpret fear as a reason not to do something.
A few suggestions for how to face your fears at work:
1. Write your desires down and/or tell people what you want.
- You’re more likely to get what you talk about wanting.
2. Take one step towards having what you want.
- Talk to someone who either has what you want or can help you get what you want.
3. Put yourself in the place of most potential, where you can get what you want.
- If you want to work in a certain department, express interest in working on a project that serves that department.
- Tell your boss and people in leadership in your desired work area of your interest.
- Apply for a job in that area.
4. Be positive and persistent.
- No one wants to give a complainer an opportunity, and it takes time to make a shift.
The key is to take one step, then another, then another. And when you feel fear, don’t let it stop you. Fearing the next job or opportunity doesn’t mean you can’t do it well, it just means you haven’t done it yet.
When you need encouragement to face your fears, hang our inspiring magnets at your desk. You have to believe in yourself just as much as the people around you believe in you.
Lots of organizations send out employee engagement surveys with the desire of improving employee engagement and retention; unfortunately they often damage both in the process.
There are a few employee engagement survey pitfalls that are luckily easy to avoid.
Here are three practices to follow when sending out employee engagement surveys:
- Shorter is better. I hate to say this, but no one wants to fill out your employee engagement survey. It’s time consuming, employees doubt the survey will yield results, and employees worry that their feedback isn’t really confidential.
Make your employee engagement survey easy to fill out by making it short. And by short, I mean 10 questions or fewer. You’ll get a better response rate to a 10-question survey than a 65-question one. And do you really need more information than the answers to ten well-written questions?
- Provide employees with survey results quickly. Most organizations ask for too much information. Leaders are overwhelmed by the survey information, so they spend months and months reviewing it, while employees comment on yet another employee survey with no communication.
Send out a communication sharing the top few learnings – the good and the not-so-good — within a few weeks of sending out the survey. You don’t need to take action at the same time. Simply keep employees in the loop by communicating a quick summary of what you learned. If you wait too long to share the feedback, it often never gets communicated. And the next time you send out a survey, employees will remember the absence of information and be hesitant to fill it out.
- Within 90-days, tell employees what you will and won’t be changing, based on the survey feedback, and tell them why. Employees don’t need or expect all of their input to be utilized. Closing the loop with clear communication about what you are and aren’t changing, and why, is often sufficient.
All of that being said, I’m going to recommend you send out fewer surveys. Employee engagement surveys are a good way to quickly collect lots of information. Engagement surveys are not a good way of building trust and relationships with employees, which is what leads to employee engagement and retention. Employees don’t feel closer to an organization’s leadership team after filling out an employee engagement survey. Trust isn’t built. Instead of sending out so many surveys, I’d suggest cutting the number in half and have leaders and managers hold roundtable discussions with groups of 6-8 employees a few times a year instead. Roundtable discussions achieve several goals at once—they give leaders visibility, which builds trust, they help leaders build rapport and relationships, and gather the same data that a written survey provides.
When leaders participate in our Be a Best Place to Work program, we teach the five things leaders need to do to engage and retain employees. Holding roundtable discussions and asking these questions is a key recommendation of the training. Sending out written surveys is not. Engage and retain employees by talking with employees. Ask employees for their input. Listen. And watch your employee engagement survey scores sky rocket.
Want to spend less time managing performance issues? Hire the right people. The right people make everything work. The wrong people drain your time, patience, and resources.
Instead of spending 60-90 minutes doing in-person interviews, which tell you little, give candidates a chance to experience the job, and see how they do. I used to conduct thorough, in-person interviews. I’d ask a lot of questions, and I still hired the wrong people. And as a result, we’ve changed our hiring practices at Candid Culture. We no longer do traditional, in-person interviews after phone screens. Instead, we watch candidates do parts of the job. Then we decide if we want to talk with them further.
Too many companies spend too much time interviewing candidates they won’t hire. You might have multiple employees interview a candidate. It’s not uncommon for candidates to meet six or seven people and spend an entire day interviewing. The ultimate decision maker(s) often interviews the person last, cuts the candidate, and thus wasted her employees’ and the candidate’s time. If you want your employees to be involved in the hiring process, have them interview only the candidates the decision maker(s) would be willing to hire. Why waste everyone’s time?
Here Are Seven Interviewing Techniques to Make Better Hiring Decisions:
Interviewing Techniques Number One: Consider hiring a recruiting firm to source and screen candidates. Reading 100 resumes is likely not how you want to spend your time.
Interviewing Techniques Number Two: If you choose not to outsource recruiting, create a few steps for candidates to follow when applying for a job with your company to weed out the people who aren’t serious. It’s better to see 20 resumes from serious candidates than 100 resumes from candidates who potentially aren’t really interested in your company.
Interviewing Techniques Number Three: If you’re sourcing and screening your own candidates, conduct thorough phone screens. Assess culture fit and candidates’ ability to do the job, and eliminate candidates who don’t meet your criteria.
Interviewing Techniques Number Four: Schedule in-person interviews with the candidates you’re interested in. Tell candidates they’ll be participating in a practical interview during which they’ll get to do parts of the job, so they can see if they’ll enjoy the work.
Interviewing Techniques Number Five: Have candidates do some of the work, observe them and/or the work they produce, and provide some positive and improvement feedback. If, after observing candidates do some work, you think they can do the job, and the candidate accepted your feedback without becoming defensive, conduct an in-person interview. If you don’t think they can do the job, end the interview.
During interviews, I screen for a candidate’s willingness to accept coaching and feedback. People who aren’t coachable or open to feedback are exhausting and difficult to work with.
Interviewing Techniques Number Six: If you’re interested in a candidate after both the practical and in-person interview, conduct detailed reference checks. Never, ever skip the reference check.
Interviewing Techniques Number Seven: Lastly, if you’re going to extend an offer, ask your finalists to spend a day or half a day job shadowing. Candidates and employers are on their best behavior during an interview and become more relaxed outside of the traditional interview. You want candidates to get a feeling for what it’s really like to work in your organization. Culture fit is the hardest thing for candidates and hiring managers to predict. Job shadowing helps.
Slow down your interviewing, be more thorough, and make better hiring decisions.
Most people avoid giving feedback because they’re concerned about (don’t want to deal with) the other person’s defensive response. It’s easier to say nothing than deal with someone’s defensiveness. So we say things are fine when they’re not.
If you want people to tell you the truth, do the opposite of what they expect when responding to feedback. Rather than become defensive, say, “thank you.”
Saying “thank you for the feedback” is not intended to be a pollyanna response, nor does it mean you agree and that the person is right. Saying “thank you” catches the other person off guard (in a good way) and buys you time to think and respond calmly, making it more likely that you’ll get feedback in the future.
Each of us wants to be thought well of and be seen as competent. Negative feedback calls both into question and the brain responds defensively. The challenge is that defensive responses scare other people into silence. And you only need to get defensive once for people to believe that you don’t deal well with feedback.
Don’t underestimate the power of your emotions and ego. You are likely to respond to feedback defensively, even if you don’t see yourself do it. A seemingly benign ‘explanation’ of why you did something as you did it, is seen as defensive and is thus off putting to others.
Here are six strategies for responding to feedback well:
- Responding to feedback strategy one: Have feedback conversations when you have the time to listen and are rested. If you’re tired, on a deadline, or rushing to your next meeting, the conversation will not go well.
- Responding to feedback strategy two: If someone catches you off guard with feedback and you know you won’t respond well, interrupt the person. Tell him that you appreciate him bringing this to your attention and you want to give the conversation the attention it deserves, but now isn’t a good time. Schedule a time to finish the conversation within a few days.
- Responding to feedback strategy three: Have a plan for how you’re going to respond to scheduled/planned feedback conversations before the conversations start. Tell yourself, “I will say thank you, end the conversation, and ask for another time to talk.”
- Responding to feedback strategy four: If you receive feedback that doesn’t feel accurate, ask others, who you trust, what they think. Just be prepared to hear what they have to say, and, of course, respond with “thank you.”
- Responding to feedback strategy five: Don’t respond to negative feedback in the moment, even if the other person wants you to and you think you can do so without being defensive. Don’t underestimate the power of your emotions. You will be upset, even if you don’t feel upset, and your response will be better after you’ve had time to process. Tell the person who gave you feedback that you take their feedback seriously and want to respond thoughtfully, and thus you’re going to think about what s/he said before responding. People may be frustrated with this response at first, but they’ll be appreciative later.
- Responding to feedback strategy six: Be sure to get back to the person, who has feedback for you, within a few days. Tell him you thought about what he said and then tell him how you feel. You can speak candidly. Your words will be calmer and more thoughtful then when you received the initial feedback.
We know people are hesitant to give feedback. Make giving you feedback easier by responding calmly. No one expects to hear “thank you for the feedback.” Your unemotional response will strengthen your reputation and relationships, and make it more likely that you get more feedback in the future.
Many of us are hesitant to give peer feedback. We worry that giving peer feedback will damage our relationships. We wonder if we have the right and if it’s our place to give peer feedback. And we are concerned about what the consequences of giving peer feedback will be.
Giving peer feedback isn’t so different from giving feedback to a friend or even a direct report. While you have an implicit ‘right’ to give a direct report feedback, doing so without building trust will ensure your feedback falls flat.
People respond to feedback in predictable ways. Most people get upset and defend themselves. This is normal and natural. Negative feedback conflicts with our desire to be thought well of, which all people (despite what they might say) want. People are more open and less defensive when they trust the source of the feedback and trust the sources’ motives. Follow these practices when giving peer feedback and your feedback will hopefully be well received.
Four practices for giving peer feedback:
- Think about why you want to give feedback. Really think about this. Is your desire to help the person change a behavior, or are you just being judgmental? If your intention isn’t to help someone replicate or change a behavior, say nothing. It’s not feedback you’re planning to give, it’s only your opinion you want to disseminate. One of my friends recently told me she felt my son’s name was waspy. Her comment wasn’t feedback as there was nothing I could do with the information. She simply gave me her judgmental opinion, which annoyed me.
Also consider why you want to give feedback. Do you simply want something done your way, or do you feel strongly that what the person is doing is having a negative impact on him/her or the organization? I worked with a business leader who red lined every document his staff created. He didn’t only change language that was wrong, he edited documents so they were written more akin to his writing style. This made his staff feel that they couldn’t do anything right and it wouldn’t matter what they produced, he’d revise even the most ‘perfect’ work. So they stopped trying. Evaluate your true motive. Just because something wasn’t done your way, doesn’t mean it wasn’t done well.
- Provided your motives are pure – you’re trying to make a difference for someone and his/her behavior is causing real challenges, it’s ok to speak up. Be sure you have the relationship to give peer feedback. Does the person know you have his/her back? If you speak up, will s/he trust it’s because you care about her or the organization, versus you just want to express your opinion and be right.
- Provided you are giving feedback to alter a behavior and you have the relationship to give feedback, it’s important that you ask for permission. A peer relationship is a lateral one. You each have the same ‘power’ (at least by title) in the organization, thus you don’t intrinsically have the ‘right’ to give feedback. You earn the right to give feedback by asking for permission and being willing to hear, “No, thank you.”
Asking for permission to give feedback might sound something like, “I’ve noticed a few things that I think are making ________ project harder than it has to be. Would you be willing to talk with me about it?”
Or, “Our weekly team meetings are tough. It’s a challenging group. I have a couple of ideas that might make the meetings easier to run. Would you be interested in talking about them?”
Or, “I have something I want to share with you. I feel awkward bringing this up because we’re peers and I’m not sure it’s my place to do so. But I care about you and want you to be successful. Would it be ok if I shared? Feel free, of course, to say no.”
- Lastly, don’t worry about giving peer feedback perfectly. You might follow our feedback formula to a tee. You might not. There is no one right way to give feedback. Speak from the heart. If you’re nervous to have a conversation, say so. If you’re not sure it’s your place to give a piece of feedback, say so. If you’re worried you won’t deliver the feedback well, say that. Saying how you really feel, being human and vulnerable builds trust, relationships, and credibility. People want to work with other real people, and real people have concerns. It’s ok to share them.
Giving peer feedback doesn’t have to be hard. Evaluate your motives. Ensure that what you plan to share is really feedback versus merely your opinion. Build trust, ask for permission, and speak from the heart. If you make a mess, you can always clean it up. Simply repeat the steps by saying something like, “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. I hope it’s ok I said something. I really want this project to go well for both you and the team. How could I have done that better for next time?”
Since having a child, the words “I’m sorry” have taken over my life. “I’m sorry I missed your birthday.” “I’m sorry I’m delayed in replying.” “I’m sorry I missed your call.” “I’m sorry it took me four months to send you a thank you card.” These two words come out of my mouth so often that they’ve taken over my vocabulary.
I’m a big fan of taking responsibility and personal accountability. I think being accountable is easier than passing the buck. When I’m accountable, I have more power and control. When someone else is accountable, I have neither. But there’s a difference between being accountable and apologizing for yourself.
Last week I vowed to stop saying, “I’m sorry.” And yet, the next words out of my mouth were apologetic. Apologizing for oneself is so natural, it’s pervasive, aka, a hard habit to break.
Below are a few strategies for being accountable but not apologetic:
- Be accountable: Establish clear priorities and boundaries. When I had a child, I set very clear guidelines for myself on work hours and travel practices. And I stick to those 99% of the time. Having clearly established boundaries makes decision making easy.
- Be accountable: Only commit to things you know you will do. For personal situations, only commit to things you genuinely want to do.
- Be accountable: Tell the truth. If you don’t plan to do something, say so, without apology. “Thank you but no” has a lot of power.
- Be accountable: Know your limits and what you need to be healthy and functioning at an optimum level. If you need eight hours of sleep, structure your life to get it. If you need weekends focused on your family, do that. If a trip home this summer feels like too much, don’t go. Taking care of yourself enables you to take care of others.
- Be accountable: Renegotiate when you need to. If you realize something you agreed to isn’t feasible or in your best interest, renegotiate versus suffer through it. Or, keep your commitment, but don’t recommit the next time a similar opportunity or request comes around.
- Be accountable: Be careful where you invest your energy. I love my family and friends, and they will never get a printed party invitation or holiday card from me. Ever. I want to do both. I really do. But just thinking about collecting addresses puts me over the edge.
- Be accountable: Give yourself a break. You’re doing the best you can. You’re a human like everyone else. We’re all doing the best we can.
Being accountable isn’t being perfect. It’s being human with points for effort. Be yourself. Take care of yourself. And do your best, unapologetically.
If you want to freak out the people you work with, tell them, “We need to talk.” If you really want to freak them out, say those four magic words on a Friday, or even better, the day before someone goes on vacation. “We need to talk” is rarely followed by, “and you’re awesome.” People know bad news is likely coming, and they’ll inevitably be on edge.
The antidote to asking for time to talk is to create opportunities to give feedback regularly.
There are many reasons giving feedback is hard. One of them is we wait too long. Something happens. We know we should address it, but we don’t want to. So we wait to see if the behavior is really ‘a thing.’ Then it happens again. And now we know it’s ‘a thing.’ But we still don’t want to address it. Then the situation gets really bad, and now we have to say something. The conversation then takes 90 minutes, is painful, and everyone goes home unhappy.
Here are two key to make giving feedback easier:
Giving feedback strategy one: Debrief everything. Do a quick plus/delta on a regular basis to assess how things are going. Plus – what went well? Delta – what would we change if we could/what did we learn?
I recommend doing a quick debrief at the end of important meetings, hiring processes, projects, and when anything changes. Conduct a short debrief when you have staffing changes, gain or lose a client, launch or eliminate a product or service, etc. Change is an opportunity to evaluate how you work and to make appropriate adjustments.
When you debrief important events, you tell people that feedback is important and that it’s ok to be candid. Conducting regular debriefs also gives employees a chance to practice giving feedback, which is a hard skill. And like anything, the more we give feedback, the easier it becomes.
Conducting short, regular debriefs is one of the easiest ways to learn from the past and become a more candid culture.
Giving feedback strategy two: Schedule five to fifteen minutes each week to talk as a team or with direct reports. When you know you have time each week to talk with your manager, direct reports, and/or team members, you never have to ask for time to talk. Issues don’t build up or linger. Breakdowns and frustrations are discussed within of few days of their occurrence, and no one is on edge that bad news is coming at their end of their vacation.
The key to being effective at giving feedback is to give feedback regularly. Short, frequent feedback conversations are much more effective than infrequent, long conversations that everyone dreads and leaves feeling exhausted and demoralized.
Debrief everything meaningful. Meet with people weekly. Ask for and give feedback as things happen, and watch your culture change.
I’m often asked, “Can I give my boss or the people above me feedback? Is that really realistic?” Giving people ‘above’ you feedback has everything to do with the quality of your relationship and less to do with the person’s title. If your relationship is good and your boss is open to feedback, then yes, you can practice the feedback formula with him/her. If your relationship isn’t that solid or your boss isn’t open to your feedback, practice managing up by asking for what you want instead of giving direct feedback.
No one likes to be criticized or told that s/he is wrong. When giving someone direct feedback, no matter how kind the delivery, you are telling someone, “You’re doing ______ wrong. Please do _____ instead.” Being that direct is challenging when you don’t have the best relationship or when people are highly defensive. You can achieve the same desired results by simply asking for what you want.
Asking for what you want is less judgmental than giving direct feedback and is a subtle way of telling someone s/he is not giving you what you need. And people who are paying attention will get that. They don’t need it spelled out.
Here are a few ways to practice managing up with your boss and other leaders in your organization:
Giving Direct Feedback: “You don’t make time for me. I’m getting behind on projects because you don’t take the time to review my work.”
Managing Up by Asking: “How can we ensure you get to review my work each week, so I can finish the projects I’m working on?”
Giving Direct Feedback: “Every time we have a meeting scheduled, you cancel it.”
Managing Up by Asking: “If meetings get cancelled, is it ok if I reschedule them?
Giving Direct Feedback: “You’re a micromanager. I feel like I can’t make a move without your permission.”
Managing Up by Asking: “I’d like to manage ________ project. What do you need to feel comfortable with me doing that?”
Telling someone at any level s/he is doing something wrong, which will likely evoke defensiveness. And being direct requires both courage and a good relationship. If you don’t have the relationship to be so direct, simply ask for what you want.